French Cinema

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Cor. What a title. 

The ability to build worlds within film has advanced an incredible amount, especially since the days of James Cameron’s Avatar. Luc Besson has had his hand in the Valerian pie for a long time, and recently thought that the technology was there for him to create Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Besson worked to adapt the French comic book series for the screen, but the title sticks out like a sore thumb considering the comic series is called Valerian and Laureline. I had a certain sense of apprehension for this as the last Besson film I had the ‘pleasure’ of watching was Lucy, and I absolutely loathed that film. But the trailer managed to lure me in with the visuals and the science-fiction element to the film.

Valerian (yeah, I’m just going to call it that from now on) hooked me from the opening sequence as the space station expands and welcomes other nations on-board. As it expands, alien life begins to join and the station grows exponentially into Alpha. As it reaches critical mass, it is pushed out of Earth’s orbit to travel by itself.

Besson apparently sat on this film for some time, and it’s clear to see why as world building that is undertook in Valerian is exceptional, from the market to the whistle-stop tour of the Alpha station is incredibly vibrant. Unfortunately for Besson and Valerian the enjoyment for the film slowly begins to fade when you look past the pretty visuals in the opening thirty or so minutes.

Generally speaking the scripting was just downright awful. And especially cringe worthy when agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) was trying to woo? his partner agent Laureline (Cara Delevingne) by saying the most inane things. Some of the lines had me shaking my head in disbelief that they had made the final cut. Dane and Cara themselves were good in the role, but Cara’s character does fall into the standard damsel in distress character although Laureline as a character seems to be better than that.

But I don’t think the scripting was helped by the narrative, as it seemed to be jumping all over the place as Besson tried to mash together the love story between Valerian and Laureline and this mysterious element that they have found themselves pulled into. Often it felt as though it wasn’t sure which direction the film wanted to be pulled in.

The film does stand at over two hours, but unfortunately does feel like it’s over three hours as it slogs its way between the narrative, scripting and the indulgent visuals. I don’t think this could have been helped as Besson took the time to dress the screen in the incredible visuals, which were incredible to watch unfold on the screen.

I did enjoy the pairing of Dane DaHaan and Cara Delevingne as they bounce off each other, and do seem to have an interesting chemistry on-screen. Cara was the better off the two regardless of her damsel in distress characterisation, and Dane plays the cocky, arrogant character to perfection, regardless of the script-vomit that tumbles out of his mouth.

It has to be said though, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets only has one true winner, and that lies in the visuals. Besson builds incredible worlds, from the inter-dimensional market to the Thousand City Planet of Alpha and it’s incredulous atmosphere. I mean water, a fully submerged water section on a space station. Really?

However, between the scripting and the narrative being all over the place it’s not something that makes me want to rush back to see it all over again. Aside from the dazzling visuals and Cara’s performance as Agent Laureline, there is little to enjoy about this film. Even the score pulled me out of the film, by sounding reminiscent of Star Wars. As I try to recount the film, I have come to realise that it is less-than-memorable, with only a few glimpses sticking out, including the marketplace sequence being one of better in the film.

If you find yourself going to see it, see it on the biggest screen possible, but other than that, I wouldn’t rush out to see it, which is a shame as I wanted to like Valerian more.

Untouchable/The Intouchables (2011)

Untouchable brings together the rather unlikely friendship of Philippe and Driss. The former, a vastly wealthy man bound to his wheelchair due to paralysis from the neck down, the latter a man from the projects. Philippe (played wonderfully by Francios Cluzet) is interviewing for a new carer, with the humdrum of people citing their references at Philippe, and Driss (Again a brilliant performance by Omar Sy), who looks completely out of place in the waiting area, storms in before his name is called. His reason? He is tired of waiting because he is simply wanting a signature so he claim benefit without any interest for the job that he is being interviewed for.

After leaving the supposed interview, an insight to Driss’ life is revealed. He goes home to the projects, a run down block of apartments, where he lives with five or six children running around his feet in a very small apartment. A woman returns, who is assumed to be his mother, is unhappy about the fact he has been missing for six months without hearing from him. Consequently, because of his actions, Driss is kicked out of the apartment.

Driss returns to Philippe’s house for his signature so he can retrieve his benefit, but he is shown around instead of being given his paper. Confused as to what is happening, when he meets Philippe all becomes clear and he is bet that he doesn’t last two weeks caring for Philippe. As it is mentioned that many of the applicants don’t even last a week. This begins their relationship, which shows change, at the beginning a melancholy looking Philippe, is now smiling and laughing with Driss as the rest of the story unfolds. The significance in this relationship is highlighted when Philippe meets with a friend, and says Driss will offer him no pity and Philippe counters that is exactly what he wants.

“That’s exactly it. That’s what I want. No pity.”

Regardless of these ideas that street guys will offer him no pity, Driss becomes compassionate towards Philippe, and genuinely caring for the man. But not only for Philippe, he starts to care for Elisa and her problems, urging Yvonne to try and enjoy herself, especially with the gardener. The companionship that Philippe and Driss form is a real human spirit triumph, in the sense two people from opposite ends of the spectrum can form a bond that good, is impressive. They start to enjoy each other’s company to the point where they become friends, and share details about one another. Ultimately they have a lasting effect on one another.

This effect is that the pair try new things, like Driss, after his earlier astonishment at a painting being sold for 41,500€, begins to paint himself. He manages to paint one and even sells it for 11,000€, with the help of Philippe, but Driss has an effect on Philippe also, with letter relationship with Eléonore. It seems odd to Driss how they only converse through letters, so being proactive, he phones her up and puts Philippe on the phone, much to Philippe’s dismay, but it begins the next step in that relationship. Now Philippe is constantly talking to Eléonore, so much so, that Driss comments that he’s a chatterbox.

The tale of this pair's friendship is wonderful.

This relationship between Driss and Philippe, has all sorts of value to it, but one of them is a comedic value. Mainly because of Driss’ mannerisms towards Philippe, from handing him the phone, to tell him he should be throwing snowballs back. But this involved with the real care that Driss uses with Philippe shows the relationship is something to be cherished also, as is evident when Philippe becomes melancholy again when switching through carers, after Driss leaves with family matters that need to be resolved.

It’s such a genuine film, and it being based on a true story (even though it would’ve been just as enjoyable had it been fictional) the film is such a feel good film. The relationship and bond that Philippe and Driss create and maintain is brilliant. The film all in all, is one to be recommended. The feel good fact of the story, coupled with the humour, the sensitivity shown by Driss towards Philippe regardless of the no pity idea is brilliant. And both of the main roles are wonderfully acted by Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy.

4/5

Delicacy (2011)

Not being a through and through French film enthusiast, but rather an admirer from afar, I thought I would dip my toe in the pool of the French film. I chose Delicacy starring Audrey Tautou, and honestly, I’m not sure why I choose this particular film, but it stood out. And the genre, being a romantic comedy, is another reason I choose it, strangely.

Audrey Tautou plays the delightful Nathalie Kerr, a woman in love with a man named Francois. In romantic comedy fashion, they become engaged and eventually married. I must admit, I find it usually quite humdrum and boring, but with this one, I found it, something I don’t often say, adorable.

What’s a romantic comedy without a splash of tragedy? Well, Delicacy is not one to miss out on this dose as it takes this heartfelt, adorable relationship we see unfolding and takes it away from us as quickly as we were introduced. This of course, spirals sweet, adorable Nathalie into a deep depression in which she locks herself away, in a typical, cliché fashion. She decides after a period of time to stop moping, and, finally go back to work.

Following these scenes, Chloe, a character we were introduced to earlier in the film gives the necessary information, to her co-workers, that is had been three years since Francois’ death and also that Nathalie has become a very work orientated woman, that is all work and no play.

That is until an odd kiss happens, in which she initiates, clearly in a daydream state. She kisses her colleague Markus, this is for me, when the comedy begins to happen, as dazed as the audience, he begins his walk home with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen and an assortment of things happen to him. Due to his uplifting good mood, he comes to his apartment building and it appears he has forgotten the code to get into his apartment building. Now this is pretty damn funny, as he looks around intently trying to remember the code.

When Markus comes to visit Nathalie in the office once more, it becomes clear to him that this relationship becomes a unrequited one, however, this is not enough for the hapless Markus who attempts to court her in a varied scheme. Their relationship eventually starts to blossom as they spend more and more time together, but what’s that without a little bit of trouble, firstly Markus trying to cut Nathalie out of his life for fear of falling in love and the over complication of the boss trying to woo Nathalie too. The gentle attempts are brilliant because they are not extravagant, they are simple and average, something people do in everyday lives, and this is one of the better devices used, as there can be a connection made.

The film is summed up, beautifully, may I add when Markus and Nathalie visit Madeliene, Nathalie’s grandmother. They become very passionate, confirming their relationship more than anything and if that wasn’t enough and didn’t make you feel joyed, they play a game of a hide and seek – a game Nathalie used to play in the same garden – and Markus retraces the different ages of Nathalie. From her youth playing hide and seek, to spending time with Francois and eventually grieving about Francois. Markus, doing the voice over ends the film with “this place in her heart, is where I will hide”. It’s a nice and adequate ending as it shows Nathalie through the relationship with Markus, has begun to enjoy life again, much like when we see the memories shown in this garden of her grandmothers.

It’s a very adorable film and as I said, not my usual taste, but it made me smile almost all the way through. It’s nothing special outside of the romantic comedy, but it certainly isn’t the worst one I’ve seen. Audrey Tautou is beautiful in this film and her co-star Francois Damiens playing Markus is brilliant too, playing a seemingly plain man, but instead at heart is just being a gentleman. The film being simple is possibly the best technique for the Foenkinos brothers, as the simple act of the two characters falling in love, is the thing about this film that makes it special and of course, enjoyable.

I would definitely recommend this film, but it’s not the type of film you would curl up into a ball with a tub of ice cream, but rather the type of film that makes you smile, much like Markus’ smile when he first gets kissed by Nathalie. I wouldn’t say this film does expand on the already known genre of romantic comedies, but it’s certainly one of the best I’ve seen, of the little amount that I have actually seen.